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October 16, 2009

Two hypotheses of live music

1. The better the venue is for the performer, the worse it is for the audience.

2. Hearing songs for the first time is a very different experience than hearing them a second, third, sixteenth or 64th time.

Last night, I caught Them Crooked Vultures' debut NYC performance at Roseland Ballroom. Prior to the show, I had not heard more than a 30 second clip of any of their music. But a few factors convinced me to buy tickets for the show. The rhythm section comes from two of the greatest rock bands of all time (Led Zeppelin and Nirvana) and the guitarist/lead singer from a band that I appreciate and enjoy (Queens of the Stone Age). Aside from hearing a single, I went to The Raconteurs first appearance in New York with no more information than knowing the prior work of Jack White and Brendan Benson, and caught a great show. But I was only appropriately whelmed by Them Crooked Vultures. I suspect that the venue and familiarity kept this show from reaching the next level.

Venue & Comfort
Roseland is a pretty terrible place to see a concert. The sound is muddy and booming in the cavernous room. Any precise and dynamic bass playing just gets lost in the mud of Roseland's acoustics. Fortunately, John Paul Jones plays with a fairly distinctive sound that helps emphasize the attack at the beginning of each note. The sightlines from the floor are atrocious. There's not enough traffic flow for the capacity this room can handle to make entering and exiting easy or quick.

New York's other venues of similar capacity, including Hammerstein Ballroom, Webster Hall, Terminal 5, also present similar compromises to concertgoers, with boomy sound, crowded feeling at capacity, poor sight lines and insufficent bar staff to handle peak rush without queues. Which leads me to propose the hypothesis that there is an inverse relationship between a venue's quality of experience for performers as for audience. At a large hall like Roseland or Hammerstein, the artist has a proper dressing room, large stage, a dedicated sound engineer for the monitor mix, and space for a big lighting rig. But the audience has to deal with the hassles. At a small club with capacity of up to a couple of hundred, bands may lack a dressing room, someone to run lights, inadequate monitors and have to deal with the hassles of loading gear on and off stage through the crowd rather than directly back to a dedicated back-stage location, but the audience benefits from good sight lines and decent sound. The larger the artist is of a draw, the more the artist needs to be pampered and the audience will be willing to put up with more hassles. The smaller the artist, the more the audience needs to be made comfortable.

Here's an approximate graph of the relationship between venue size and comfort level for artists and their audiences:

At the intersection of the audience comfort and artist comfort curve is Bowery Ballroom along with other clubs of similar size. Big enough to have enough resources to put on a top-level show, but small and intimate enough to offer a good experience for the audience.

There's a certain level of familiarity with a piece of music that makes it more enjoyable for a listener. The brain needs to do some amount of work to process music at first that listening to a song that one's heard before is a very different experience from listening to a new song. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was so different and difficult, that the audience rioted at the piece's debut. Seriously, they rioted.

And I can think of a couple of concerts I've seen the familiarity phenomenon in full effect. At the Raconteurs first show at Irving Plaza, The audience became significantly more engaged once the Raconteurs played the one single they had released to date, "Steady as She Goes." When U2 played a free concert in Empire-Fulton Ferry Park in 2004, the first 7 songs of the set were all songs from their new, yet-to-be-released album. It was very obvious to see who downloaded the album in advance from the internet and who hadn't. But the energy level of the crowded raised dramatically when the band broke into older singles, "Beautiful Day" and "I Will Follow." The audience was much more engaged and energized by hearing familiar material that U2 played the new single, Vertigo, again to feed off that energy to get a better performance for the film crew.

By not releasing more than snippets of music, Them Crooked Vultures gave the audience something new, but not anything especially engaging. And because it takes mental energy to process new music, the crowd was sapped of a lot of its energy. The last time I went to a concert at Roseland was to see Radiohead nine (!) years ago. And all of the drawbacks of the venue were there, but the crowd had more energy, in part because Radiohead played a couple of days after their album dropped and also had old fan favorites to mix in with their new material.

The first few songs of Them Crooked Vultures' set were all huge, riff-heavy energetic tracks that, as expected, combined the bombast of Nirvana with Zeppelin's grounding and Queens of the Stone Age sludgy grit. The last song featured an epic and heavy jam. But neither the songs themselves nor Homme's singing helped make the performance more than the sum if its parts. The biggest influence on the group's sound was Queens of the Stone Age. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing-- unlike some other groups assembled from members of other well-known groups, the parts here add up to something good and coherent. But it also lacked Nirvana's skill for songwriting and Zeppelin's heft and showmanship.

As expected, Grohl is a formidable drummer. But you also see just how Jones' style works with Grohl's to give the rhythm section a taste of Zeppelin, but not attempting to mimic or ape the Jones/Bonham sound.

NPR's Bob Boilen was very enthused with the band's show at the 9:30 Club, "It's been a while since I've been to a show that I'd call 'balls to the wall,' but Them Crooked Vultures aren't holding back. From their first song, 'Elephant,' to the song playing right now, called 'Highway 1,' nuance has left the building. Granted, I'm only four songs into the show, but good lord, this rocks." I suspect that at a club the size of the 9:30 Club as opposed to Roseland, the room didn't swallow up much of the show's appeal, which helped the audience enjoy the show that much more.

Don't get me wrong: this was a very good show. Unfortunately, with a couple of tweaks, it could have been an epic show.

See also, Rolling Stone: Them Crooked Vultures Blast Through Jams at New York Debut

October 20, 2009

The CMJ Band Name Index, 2009

This is now an annual tradition! For the second year in a row, we're going to look through the big list of bands coming into town this week for the CMJ Music Marathon and see if we can divine any trends in band naming.


Two is by far the most popular number referenced in band naming. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 28, 69, 70 and 1,000,000 are also represented among this crop of names:
  • Jupiter One
  • Once
  • 2am Club
  • Mystery of Two
  • Twin Atlantic
  • Twin Berlin
  • Two Fresh
  • Two Tears
  • Mother Of Three
  • Mighty Five
  • School of Seven Bells
  • The Middle Eight
  • 12th Planet
  • 28 North
  • 69 Eyes
  • Expo 70
  • A Million Years

Other Quantities

Some quantities aren't expressible in discrete numbers
  • So Many Dynamos
  • So Many Wizards
  • Super Extra Bonus Party


Surprisingly, fast and slow are equally represented
  • The Fast Romantics
  • Slow Country
  • Tempo No Tempo


Go west, young man! All four of the compass directions are represented, but west is the most prevalent.
  • 28 North
  • Far East Movement
  • Mark Knight and Dirty South Live
  • Smith Westerns
  • Western Civ
  • The Western States Motel


Planets and Satellites
  • 12th Planet
  • Hooray For Earth
  • Man on Earth
  • Jupiter One
  • Moonbabies
  • Moondoggies
  • Under The Sherry Moon
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • We Are The World
  • Antarctic
  • Pacific Theater
  • Twin Atlantic
  • The Brazil Show
  • Casino versus Japan
  • Electro Morocco & Dreams in Static
  • Japandroids
  • Japanther
  • Look Mexico
  • The Maldives
  • Portugal. The Man
  • French Miami
  • Spanish Prisoners
  • These United States
  • Volcanoless In Canada
  • Arizona
  • The Gulf Of Michigan
  • Appomattox
  • Brighton MA
  • Capital City
  • David Dallas
  • French Miami
  • Invade Rome
  • My Jerusalem
  • NYCSmoke
  • River Phoenix
  • Twin Berlin
  • Bel Air
  • Diamond District
  • Harlem
  • Robbers on High Street
  • The Bowery Riots
Geographical Features
  • Beach Fossils
  • Best Coast
  • Black Bay
  • The Frontier Brothers
  • The Frontier Ruckus
  • The Gulf Of Michigan
  • River Phoenix
  • Spiral Beach
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • Vertical Horizon
  • The Emergency Room
  • Home and Garden
  • The Library
  • Uninhabitable Mansions


  • 2am Club
  • A Million Years
  • All The Day Holiday
  • Black & White Years
  • Love In October
  • The Minutes
  • Overnight
  • The Past Times


  • Eternal Summers
  • Winterpills

Deoartment of Redundancy Department

Bands so nice they named them twice:
  • Bang Bang Eche
  • Beep Beep
  • Blip Blip Bleep
  • Champagne Champagne
  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Dum Dum Girls
  • Fra Fra Sound
  • Future Future
  • Kill Kill Kill
  • Motel Motel
  • Runner Runner
  • Santino Santino
  • The Seedy Seeds
  • Shout Out Out Out Out
  • Still Life Still
  • Takka Takka
  • Tall Tall Trees
  • Tempo No Tempo
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Veil Veil Vanish
  • Voices Voices
  • You Scream I Scream
  • You, You're Awesome


  • Aeroplane
  • Aeroplane Pageant
  • Denney and the Jets
  • Flying Machines
  • Hospital Bombers
  • In-Flight Safety
  • Jets Overhead
  • Paper Airplane
  • Still Flyin
  • Land
  • Army Navy
  • Bridges and Powerlines
  • Brit and the Cavalry
  • Broadfield Marchers
  • Delorean
  • The Motorcycle Industry
  • Unicycle Loves You
  • Sea
  • Army Navy
  • Floating Action
  • Sugar Plum Ferry
  • Space
  • Spaceships are Cool
  • We Landed On The Moon!

High vs. Low

  • The High Dials
  • The High Strung
  • Higher Giant
  • Highlife
  • The Hi-Risers
  • Robbers on High Street
  • Skyzoo
  • Jets Overhead
  • Low Frequency In Stereo


Stereo is exactly twice as popular as mono!
  • Stereo Skyline
  • Low Frequency In Stereo
  • Monogold


Black is again the most popular color represented, followed by gold.
  • Black & White Years
  • Black Anvil
  • Black Cherry
  • Black Diamond Bay
  • Black Holes
  • The Black Hollies
  • Black Swan Green
  • Black Tie Party
  • the black watch
  • Black Whales
  • Cruel Black Dove
  • Dan Black
  • Red Wire Black Wire
  • Small Black
  • Soft Black
  • Gold Streets
  • The Golden Filter
  • Golden Silvers
  • Golden Triangle
  • Goldhawk
  • Solid Gold
  • Sugar & Gold
  • Monogold
  • Hi Red Center
  • Red Collar
  • Red/X
  • Red Wire Black Wire
  • Bobby Brown
  • Bosque Brown
  • White Tie Affair
  • Black & White Years
  • Blondes
  • Blood Orange
  • Blue Scholars
  • The Bronzed Chorus
  • Greycoats
  • Pink Noise
  • The YellowDogs

Light vs. Dark

Light is slightly more popular than dark and shadow.
  • Headlights
  • Lightning Love
  • The Lights Out
  • Lights Resolve
  • Dark Meat
  • Dark Room Notes
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death


Bears, birds, whales and dinosaurs, oh my!
  • Angry Vs. The Bear
  • Bear Hands
  • Bear In Heaven
  • Care Bears on Fire
  • Mama Bear
  • Birds
  • Common Loon
  • Cruel Black Dove
  • Black Swan Green
  • An Albatross
  • Fearsome Sparrow
  • Hawk and Dove
  • Heavy Birds
  • Rainbird
  • Slang Chickens
  • Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt
  • Whales
  • Black Whales
  • Freelance Whales
  • Vulture Whale
  • Cats
  • The Jaguar Club
  • Japanther
  • Kittens Ablaze
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Spring Tigers
  • Tigercity
  • Wolves
  • Julia Wolfe
  • We Are Wolves
  • Whistling Wolves
  • Other Dogs
  • Coyote Eyes
  • Pitbull
  • Moondoggies
  • The YellowDogs
  • Dinosaurs
  • Claymation Velociraptor
  • Dinosaur Feathers
  • Insects
  • Beehive
  • Annie And the Beekeepers
  • Deer Tick
  • Chimeras
  • Dinowalrus
  • Dragon Turtle
  • All Others
  • The Antlers
  • Batrider
  • Cobra Skulls
  • Crystal Antlers
  • Fox Jaws
  • Goat Whore
  • Kate Bradley & Goodbye Horses
  • Mussels
  • Pig Destroyer
  • Skibunny
  • The Telepathic Butterflies
  • We Are Country Mice
  • Wild Yaks

Food & Drink

  • Bamboo Shoots
  • The Beautiful Taste
  • Black Cherry
  • Blood
  • Coconuts
  • Cookie Martini
  • Dark Meat
  • Drink Up Buttercup
  • Hank & Cupcakes
  • Heavy Cream
  • Hungry Hands
  • Hungry Hungry Ghost
  • Lemonade
  • Mussels
  • Pomegranates
  • Sugar & Gold
  • Sugar Plum Ferry


  • Fat Tony
  • Fatkid Dodgeball
  • Heavy Birds
  • Heavy Cream
  • Heavy Trash

New vs. Old

New and modern are much more popular than old, vintage, classic or historic.
  • Awesome New Republic
  • Future Future
  • Miracles of Modern Science
  • Modern Science
  • Modern Skirts
  • The New Collisions
  • The New Loud
  • New Villager
  • The Past Times
  • Old Canes
  • Linc with Old Soul

Government and International Relations

Republic is by far the most favored form of government and the Senate is the preferred representative body by this year's crop of bands. Surprisingly, no fans of direct democracy in the bunch.
  • Awesome New Republic
  • Great Republic of Rough and Ready
  • Senator
  • The Senate
  • French Horn Rebellion
  • International Espionage!
  • Invade Rome
  • The Surrender
  • Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt


A surprising number of bands are either vampires or decided to use blood in their band names for some other reason.
  • Blood Orange
  • Blood Warrior
  • Bloodgroup
  • The Bloodsugars
  • Surfer Blood
  • Type O Negative


  • Best Man
  • The Boy Bathing
  • The Brothers Frank
  • Brother Joscephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Frat Dad
  • The Frontier Brothers
  • Gentleman Auction House
  • Holy Sons
  • The Lives of Famous Men
  • Madison Ave Boys
  • Male Bonding
  • Man Like Me
  • Man on Earth
  • Natureboy
  • octoberman
  • Papa
  • The Protomen
  • The Queen Killing Kings
  • Female
  • Bodega Girls
  • Kleenex Girl Wonder
  • Little Girls
  • Mama Bear
  • Metermaids
  • Mother Of Three
  • Priestess
  • Screaming Females
  • Sister Hazel
  • Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds

Young vs. Old

  • Chris Young The Rapper
  • Choir of Young Believers
  • Grandchildren
  • Bodega Girls
  • Holy Sons
  • Kleenex Girl Wonder
  • Little Girls
  • Moonbabies
  • My Teenage Stride
  • Natural Child
  • Teenage Bottlerocket
  • The Teenage Prayers
  • Young Boys
  • Young Prisms
  • Youth Group
  • Baby Monster
  • Kid Color
  • Kid Theodore
  • Kidz In Space
  • Kidz In The Hall
  • Jim McTurnan and The Kids that Killed The Band
  • Mother Of Three
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Frat Dad
  • The Neanderthals
  • Old Canes


Does French Horn Rebellion have a french horn player in the band?
  • The Bongos
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars
  • Erin and Her Cello
  • French Horn Rebellion


  • Boogie Boarder
  • Fatkid Dodgeball
  • Hockey
  • Let's Wrestle
  • Surf City
  • Surfer Blood
  • Swimclub
  • The Swimmers
  • Tennis Pro
  • Unicycle Loves You

Teams vs. Bands

Surprisingly, this roster features slightly more bands that are teams than there are bands that are bands.
  • Team Facelift
  • Team Genius
  • Team Robespierre
  • Team William
  • Math the Band
  • Menahan Street Band
  • Mia Riddle & Her Band

Body Parts

  • The Idle Hands
  • Hungry Hands
  • Hammer No More The Fingers
  • The Naked Hearts
  • No Eye Contact
  • Shaky Hands
  • The Unsacred Hearts


    Hot is more popular than cold.
  • Cold Cave
  • Cold Flamez
  • Hot Lava
  • Hot Panda
  • HotChaCha
  • Spit Hot Fire

Life and Death

  • Dead Heart Bloom
  • Dead Leaf Echo
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Dead Sexy Inc.
  • Dead Stars
  • Deadbeat Darling
  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Diehard
  • Kill Kill Kill
  • Kill Krinkle Club
  • Ringo Deathstarr
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • We Should Be Dead
  • Highlife
  • Still Life Still
  • Mammoth Life
  • Jonny Lives!
  • The Lives of Famous Men

Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll

  • Drug Rug
  • drugdealer
  • Drunken Barn Dance
  • Dirty Sexy Soca
  • Dead Sexy Inc.


  • Enemy Lovers
  • The Fast Romantics
  • Unicycle Loves You
  • Love Heist
  • Love In October
  • The Love Language
  • LoveLikeFire
  • The Lovely Feathers
  • Lovemakers


Not surprisingly, loud is more popular.
  • The New Loud
  • Quiet Loudly


  • The Elusive Parallelograms
  • Goes Cube
  • Golden Triangle
  • The Octagon


  • Filthy Dukes
  • General Fiasco
  • I Was A King
  • Jess King
  • King Chango
  • The King Left
  • Sgt Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

The Four Elements

  • Man on Earth
  • Air Waves
  • The Fire & Reason
  • Fire Ex
  • Care Bears on Fire
  • Kittens Ablaze
  • Last Tide
  • LoveLikeFire
  • Quest For Fire
  • Spit Hot Fire
  • Sure Fire
  • Rain Machine
  • Rainbird
  • The Sea


Big and small are tied at 5 apiece.
  • Giant Cloud
  • Gigantic Hand
  • Nomadic Massive
  • Big Sean
  • The Big Takeover
  • Little Fish
  • Little Girls
  • Little Teeth
  • Small Black
  • Beautiful Small Machines

Complete sentences

  • We Are Country Mice
  • We Are Enfant Terrible
  • We Are The World
  • We Are Wolves
  • We Have Band
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • We Should Be Dead
  • Jonny Lives!
  • We're Pregnant
  • The Whore Moans

Exclamation points!

  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Gunfight!
  • International Espionage!
  • Jonny Lives!
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • pow wow!
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Zo! & The Els

Other Snazzy Names

These are some names that I couldn't build a cateogry around, but are entertaining nonetheless:
  • Meeting of Important People
  • Phil & The Osophers
  • Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers

Names in bold are bands we can definitely recommend seeing. Band names in italics are bands we would consider seeing just because their names are awesomely clever or ridiculous.

See also Ear Farm's CMJ preview, which provides recommendations and information about silly little details like time and location.

October 30, 2009

Brief Thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert @ MSG

So this little venue in NYC, Madison Square Garden, hosted a small concert last night in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The bill featured Bruce Sprinsteen & The E-Street Band, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and friends. Perhaps you may have heard of some of these artists?

So yeah. That was some bill. And the show lasted until 1:30 AM, as all of the performers brought out special guests, which included Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Dion DiMucci, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Smokey Robinson, BB King, Sting, John Legend, Jeff Beck, Sam Moore, Darlene Love, John Fogerty, Tom Morello and Billy Joel.

Some of the collaborations seemed superfluous, such as Sting playing bass on "Higher Ground" with Stevie, with an awkward segue into a tepid cover of "Roxanne." Others didn't have any flow-- the two acts who played with Simon and Garfunkel (Dion and Little Anthony)-- were obvious influences on Simon and Garfunkel, but didn't really bring any new shadings to the set, which probably would have been more musically memorable if Art Garfunkel and his awesome hair sang with Simon on one of Simon's solo hits. Or just if they dug deeper into their catalog. But Crosby and Nash offered backup vocals to Simon's cover of "Here Comes the Sun." And "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was just tremendous as Garfunkel's voice was more than up to the task of filling the Garden. (Of note, according to the image projected behind the stage, the East River is apparently troubled water.)

Some of the collaborations made up for the extraneous or boring ones. Half of Stevie's guests were teh awesome. Jeff Beck came on stage to wail on the guitar for "Superstition." And it was tremendous. John Legend sang a competent version of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" with Stevie. (That's a case where a competent version is a tremendous complement. Not an easy song to pull off, and while it didn't reach any higher ground, the song worked.) Legend also sat in on piano with Stevie to cover Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" for an emotional performance.

Aside from an opening trip to "Woodstock," the Crosby, Stills and Nash set felt lightweight and superfluous to the rest of the night. All three were in fine form vocally, but I could have used another hour of Stevie and Jeff Beck jamming.

Springsteen's choices of guests revealed much about his influences. Sam Moore showed how much of an influence he had on Springsteen as a performer and frontman. It also demonstrated that (with some extra horns) the E Street Band make for a solid soul revue show band. John Fogerty and Tom Morello showed a bit of the continuity of politically oriented rock music. By far, the highlights of Springsteen's set were the songs that Morello sat in for. I'm not a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine, so I had no expectations for Morello's playing (unlike, say, Jeff Beck.) His blistering solo on "The Ghost of Tom Joad" brought the song to a new level and helped elevate a cover of "London Calling" from acceptable to great.

Less musically interesting and successful was the summit meeting between NJ's Springsteen and Lon Gisland's Billy Joel. Unlike the other guests, Joel's appearance wasn't announced on the event's website beforehand, so it was a surprise for me until Bruce started talking about the similarities between NJ and LI and the stagehands brought a second piano on stage. The contrast between Springsteen and Joel is interesting. Both came up in the 70's in the New York suburbs writing and performing music mainly about disaffected teens in the suburbs. While Springsteen's is somewhat more influenced by the soul and folk traditions, Joel's is more directly descended from Tin Pan Alley. Although Sprinsteen himself is a guitar player, his best album, "Born to Run" is as much of a piano-driven album as anything by Joel. But even as someone who is unashamed to own Billy Joel albums, the juxtaposition of the two on the same stage showed me how much more

The interesting contrast between the two is where they took their music after their initial success. Springsteen became an outspoken advocate for the working class through song as stagflation gave way to Reaganomics. He delved deeper into the folk tradition with Nebraska and The Seeger Sessions. He released one of the most relevant and timely albums of this decade with "The Rising" and has continued to write new music. In contrast, Joel evolved from singing about disaffected teens to singing about disaffected middle age adults. His music remained personal, while Springsteen's evolved to add activism and politics to the personal. Joel may have said everything he has Perhaps that's why Joel last released an album of new rock music in 1993, Springsteen has released 6 new albums (3 with the E Street Band and 3 folk albums).

And Springsteen still leads the biggest and baddest rock and roll carnival to roll through town. As a 60 year old, the Boss has more energy than most 25 year old indie rockers.

Via The Star Ledger, Setlists for the show.

Rolling Stone: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Turns 25 With All-Star Sets From Springsteen, Wonder and More, Epic Moments at the Rock Hall 25th Anniversary Concert, Morello, Raitt, Crosby Pay Tribute to Fellow Legends Backstage at First Rock Hall Concert

About October 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Buzz Rant & Rave in October 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2009 is the previous archive.

November 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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